A civilian police review board appointed by the San Diego City Council, with subpoena powers to conduct confidential reviews of officer misconduct, will be proposed to voters in November as a result of action taken Monday night by the Charter Review Commission.
By a 10-5 vote, commissioners directed their attorney to draw up specific language for final approval at Thursday's meeting.
Under the proposal approved Monday, the mayor and council members would each appoint one non-Police Department member to the board, which would have its own staff to conduct separate inquiries independent of internal police investigations of complaints over misconduct.
Hearings in Private
The board would have subpoena power to call witnesses, but hearings would be conducted in private, and facts developed from the overall investigation would be sent only to the police chief and city manager, along with a finding of whether the complaint was justified. Those facts would not be made public; only a general report on the board's work in each case would be released. The final language to be presented Thursday is expected to clarify what such a general report might contain.
Commission Chairman Edward T. Butler, a retired state appellate judge, said the ideal civilian review board should be independent and have subpoena powers in order to enjoy the confidence of the public, but should conduct confidential investigations in order to protect the rights of all parties involved.
At the same time that a civilian board conducted an investigation, the police chief would carry out his own investigation. He would have both his own internal affairs report and the civilian board's report on which to base decisions regarding punishment of an errant officer.
"The police should do their thing," Butler said. "And this (proposed) board should have the public's confidence . . . in its procedures."
The proposal, if approved in November, would create a review board substantially different from the present panel that has received much negative reaction since it was established in September.
The existing panel has been criticized for being pro-police because its members were selected with the participation of Police Chief Bill Kolender and because it lacks real investigative powers, such as the authority to issue subpoenas.
Competing Plan Rejected
As constituted, the panel simply reviews citizen complaints supplied by the Police Department itself and judges whether the department's Internal Affairs Unit properly reviewed the cases.
The commission Monday rejected a motion by member Jeanette Roache to draw up language for a competing ballot proposal asking voters whether they approve of the present panel with a few minor changes. Roache argued that the commission has no way of knowing whether testimony it has received during the past several weeks arguing for a stronger review board actually represents a groundswell of public dissatisfaction.
Her plan would essentially have followed the recommendation of City Manager John Lockwood to keep the present setup but remove the police chief from the appointing process.
But a majority rejected her move, saying voters will have a choice of retaining the present panel by turning down the charter amendment in November.
Before voting on the final proposal, the commission also rejected moves for a civilian commission with no subpoena powers.
It also vetoed a plan to allow the civilian board access to Police Department files as part of the board's investigation.
And it decided not to recommend a single investigatory board with both police and civilian members. A majority said they favor the dual-track system as a means for greater independent review.